I wrote a few weeks ago about trying to eat as many whole foods in my diet as I can and to try my best (it’s not always easy) to steer clear of processed food. There are definitely nutritional reasons to do this. Food that comes in boxes, cans, jars, and bags may resemble what they’re striving to be, or may very well be a frozen or only semi-processed version of what’s pictured on the label, but some processed foods are far and removed from real food. Take Lucky Charms as an example: the carbohydrate cereal part is an odd, cardboard color and the “marshmallows!” From my memory of being younger, I remember those marshmallows being hard to the bite, much unlike an actual marshmallow, and dying the milk all sorts of shades of pastel. I think we can all agree that Lucky Charms and other such sugary, grainy, processed cereals and food are very much unlike real food and therefore if placed on a scale would rate very low as to how much energy, or prana, that they provide the body.
For those of you who are unaware of prana, it is commonly translated into English as “Life Force Energy,” or more to the point as energy. Primarily prana is used to refer to the energy that is sent throughout the body by use of the breath. You may hear yoga teachers say something along the lines of, “Use your breath to send prana into all areas of your body.” Pranayama is the Sanskrit word meaning “control of the life force” and in yoga class is used to describe an array of various breathing techniques to utilize for a more advanced yoga practice, for as we know, yoga is a heck of a lot more than just asana (physical posture.)
Now, when it comes to diet and prana, then prana is the energy provided to our bodies by means of nutrition, and not all foods are created equally when it comes to nutritional value. And if you’ve studied Ayurveda at all then you’ve heard of the three doshas, (I’m afraid that that’s too deep for me to include in this post and would be better left to a person more versed in Ayurveda than I) and in order to create balance in the body and in life, then each blend of the doshas should eat foods specific to their doshas, but again, that is for another post and I don’t want to lose you, but you can’t very well write a post about Ayurveda and not include a mention of the doshas. I want to be much broader here and think of food in terms of its energy value, and I’m not talking about a caloric number.
Consider when you grocery shop, eat out, or prepare a meal how much prana, or energy that the food you are preparing and eating has within. Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Wow, this is some hippy-woo-woo crazy talk!” but stay with me here. Fresh, organic, whole foods contain a lot more energy, or nutritional energy, or prana than food that comes from an aisle and has a shelf life of many months. I understand that packaged and processed foods hold their value in low-cost and convenience, but I think that we would all agree, that eating whole foods is better for us than eating packaged foods.
I’ll use an example for clarity; think of coffee, and I know – coffee is not very Ayurvedic, but it’s a food item that most people consume daily. Here are two examples of a highly pranic coffee option and some processed, lifeless options.
Organic, fair trade, whole bean, freshly roasted, freshly ground close to the time of consumption. See photo of green coffee beans in a basket, freshly roasted dark or medium roasted beans (all organic and fair trade,) organic milk and organic raw cane sugar all set up for sampling by my friends at Ironwood Coffee Company of Owen Sound, Ontario. Check them out via the hyperlink. This is coffee that will give you energy!
Pre-brewed, cold, highly sugared with high fructose corn syrup, sat in a cooler at a convenience store, packaged in plastic with a long shelf life; or grounds sat in a plastic (non-recyclable might I add!) K-cup; or coffee grounds bought in bulk at the grocery store that has a use by date of one year after roasting. These examples all processed more than the freshly roasted beans above and therefore have lost prana along the way.
Once you begin to think of food in terms of life held within it gets easier and easier to see the difference and make better choices when out shopping. Organic produce and products beat out non-organic, and of course freshly picked, grown in your back yard with organic compost has even more prana. While staying at the Ashram in Zdaric u Skutec, Czech Republic, Jan, my host ground his own flour on site in his kitchen because it contained more prana than flour bought at a store. He then prepared Ayurvedic meals with that flour and other local, fresh ingredients. The featured image of a meal on a tray was taken during my yoga training in India. The food served there was Ayurvedic, freshly prepared, vegetarian and full of zing. The nan shown was prepared fresh, by hand for every meal, the vegetables cooked with spices and love. Not pictured is freshly made yogurt made with milk from the cows that lived in the goshala on the Ashram grounds – now that’s pranic food! Fresh, probiotic, real living food.
Whether or not you think that prana-Life Force Energy is a load of baloney, or you’re delving deeper into your yoga to include healthy choices off the mat and into the kitchen, making wiser choices of eating fresh, whole, and when you can, organic foods is going to feel a lot better for your body than eating processed food. You don’t have to go to the extremes taken in an Ashram, start small and build up as you learn bit by bit about your body, it’s digestion, and which foods fuel it with the most prana. Live well.